The U.S. State Department's Africa policy chief warned Friday of a severe deterioration in security conditions in Sudan's western Darfur region, unless a proposed United Nations force is allowed to deploy. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer is heading to Sudan for a new effort to persuade authorities to accept an upgraded peacekeeping presence.
Assistant Secretary Frazer gave the grim assessment as she prepared to depart for Khartoum to deliver a message from President Bush to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, urging him to end delaying tactics and accept a revamped Darfur security force.
She said that with Sudan threatening a new military offensive in Darfur, and local rebel groups apparently making similar plans, the security situation could lurch out of control unless the proposed upgrade of the current African Union monitoring mission into a full-scale U.N. peacekeeping force goes forward: "We're very concerned. It's not just the government of Sudan that's preparing for an offensive. We also have heard reports that the non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement, the National Resistance Movement and others, are also preparing and rearming themselves and preparing for an offensive. So we think the security environment is deteriorating and deteriorating very quickly and we're extremely concerned about this," she said.
When they signed the Darfur peace accord in Nigeria in May, leaders of the Khartoum government signaled acceptance of the plan to upgrade the current seven-thousand member A.U. mission into a much larger United Nations force.
But they have since reneged, with President Bashir even suggesting that Sudan might forcibly resist the introduction of U.N. soldiers.
Assistant Secretary Frazer said one reason for her hastily arranged mission will be to brief the Sudanese leader on details of the peacekeeping plan, and counter complaints by the Sudanese government that it has not been adequately consulted. "We believe that we have consulted them. But we will go the last mile to make sure that we have been able to directly talk to them about the re-hatting (converting) of this force and what U.S. intentions are. This is, of course coordinated with other international actors who I think are delivering a very similar message. But I think that the key to success in Darfur in terms of getting a credible, non-partisan, as such, peacekeeping force there, is for the international community to act together," she said.
The African Union mission has suffered from logistical and budget problems and its mandate expires at the end of September.
Frazer said the United States and its allies want a Security Council resolution enacted by the end of this month that will authorize the force upgrade.
The State Department official said more than five thousand of the best-trained A.U. troops would form the nucleus of the United Nations force on October first, and at least 12,000 more U.N. soldiers would be phased in later.
She said if the transformation was not to occur until the beginning of next year, as some U.N. officials have proposed, the situation in Darfur could slide back to the level of violence that prevailed in 2004, which the United States termed genocide.
In the talk with reporters which immediately preceded her departure for Khartoum, Frazer said she did not expect a Chinese veto of the resolution enabling the new force, despite reservations expressed by Beijing.
She also said she believes the Khartoum government will, in the end, accept the new Darfur force, noting that a U.N. peacekeeping mission is already in the country monitoring the north-south Sudanese peace accord concluded last year.
The Darfur conflict erupted in 2003 when local African rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government, which countered by backing Arab militiamen who waged a scorched-earth campaign in the region. The conflict has resulted in more than 200,000 deaths and displaced more than two million people.